Above Gardens 4 Wildlife Albury–Wodonga volunteers Luke and Lauren Preston promoting cat enclosures in their Wodonga garden in August 2020.
This award recognises the outstanding contribution that volunteers make to protect, enhance or restore Victoria’s environment.
Gardens 4 Wildlife Albury–Wodonga (G4W) is an initiative of Wodonga Urban Landcare Network that inspires people to create wildlife-friendly gardens and become more involved in stewardship of Wodonga’s parks and reserves.
Initially established by Friends of Willow Park, the network took over the management of G4W Albury–Wodonga four years ago. In this time more than 330 local volunteers have been involved.
G4W Albury–Wodonga is coordinated by a part-time project officer. The program was created in response to community interest in creating wildlife friendly gardens. In addition to attracting traditional Landcare volunteers, G4W Albury–Wodonga has recruited people from new demographic groups including busy parents, devoted cat lovers and avid gardeners.
Volunteers have now planted 810 native species in residential gardens and more than 2700 native and indigenous species in local parks and reserves.
G4W Albury–Wodonga has fostered a huge increase in local awareness of environmental issues. It has generated more than 40 stories in the media on habitat gardening, community plantings, managing feral pests, adapting gardens to climate change, creating frog ponds, bird baths, cat enclosures and wildlife watering stations.
According to G4W Albury–Wodonga project officer Lizette Salmon, one of the unexpected benefits of the scheme has been stronger social relationships.
“We are seeing really positive connections forming between neighbours, community members and across generations,” Lizette said. “Conversations about gardening and wildlife are a great way to bring people together.”
A new take on planting events
Along with supporting people to work in their own gardens, G4W Albury–Wodonga has hosted 45 free or low-cost events for 1800 residents. Community planting events were made more appealing to volunteers by adding a roadshow activity – stalls, plant giveaways and a free lunch – after the planting. This attracted a broader cross section of volunteers including busy parents and young children, who were drawn to eco treasure hunts and water bug detective activities.
Seven local gardeners were supported to showcase their biodiverse habitat gardens by opening them for visits, conducting tours and starring in wildlife garden videos that have been viewed more than a thousand times. It was a nerve-racking experience for some of the gardeners – who had little experience with public speaking and media interviews –but their passion for wildlife, conservation and habitat gardening was captivating and their confidence quickly increased.
Recruiting cat lovers
To educate the community about responsible cat ownership, particularly the importance of containing cats in cat enclosures to keep them and wildlife safe, G4W Albury–Wodonga recruited volunteers to feature on nine cat enclosure Facebook case studies. The videos have been viewed more than 700 times. Two volunteer veterinarians and several pet rescue representatives also got involved and donated their time to promote cat enclosures.
After hosting two successful DIY cat enclosure workshops Albury Wodonga’s first cat enclosure business has now been established and has installed dozens of cat enclosures.
The challenge of media-shy volunteers
Since 2020 G4W Albury–Wodonga has been challenged by restrictions resulting from COVID-19. Pivoting to home-based activities including videos and virtual tours, webinars, and a children’s art competition has kept volunteers interested and involved. When live events could be hosted, they often had to be repeated several times a day to comply with caps on attendee numbers. This created an additional burden for volunteers who responded with great energy and generosity.
G4W Albury–Wodonga has also struggled with the reluctance of volunteers to speak to the media or appear on videos. Good preparation, role-playing and training have been valuable in increasing the skills and confidence of volunteers. When dealing with the print media having prepared quotes has been a useful strategy.
Surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021 revealed that 80 per cent of G4W Albury–Wodonga participants reported having done something differently in their garden as a result of a G4W activity. More than 70 per cent said G4W had helped them feel more connected to Wodonga’s parks, reserves and wildlife corridors and more than 50 per cent of participants reported having attracted more native wildlife to their garden since participating in the scheme.
Volunteers from all walks of life are the backbone of G4W Albury–Wodonga. The program has created a ground swell of new enthusiasts for wildlife habit across the community.
Michael Moore has been the driving force of the Loddon Plains Landcare Network (LPLN) since it formed in 2009.
His commitment to the LPLN and the Landcare community is unparalleled, devoting countless hours to the Wedderburn Conservation Management Network, Friends of Kooyoora, wheel cactus control, the North-Western Goldfields Ephemeral Spring Soaks project and Wedderburn’s endangered mallee fowl population. Michael’s efforts have made a significant impact towards protecting and enhancing biodiversity across the Loddon Plains.